It's Complicated

I could be talking about life, but I am actually talking about my recent Sunday brunch.

I received two bottles of Les Falaises de Braise Tavel from the head of the Tavel syndicate in Provence to taste for my Provence WineZine post this weekend (click the link for my review). I wanted to make something special to pair with this wine and, after some research, discovered that the wine pairs well with duck confit.

Naturally, I had duck confit from Top Knot Farms in the freezer (doesn't everyone?), but the next step was figuring out what to do with it.

This is where it got complicated. I could simply have put the duck on toasts and sipped away, but you know me better than that.

What ended up happening in the kitchen, other than a phenomenal mess, was Sunday brunch... each component making the dish just a little more insanely complex.

I started with the notion of a duck hash cake. That sounds humble, folksy, pretty straightforward, right? Then I decided to top it with a quail egg. Quail eggs aren't all that easy to come by, I discovered.

"Baby"the silkie rooster - one of Avery's chickens (photo by Nancy)
So I contacted my friend Avery and her grandmother Nancy who raise chickens, including the oh-so-adorable silkie breed. Silkie eggs are about half the size of a regular chicken egg and would be perfect for my needs. I asked Avery if she might get "Violet Belle," "Heart," or "Winter" to share some of their eggs with me. Happily, they provided me with seven "lucky" eggs to use. And they were, indeed, lucky because everything worked out in the end.

Oh, and then there were the pearls. Sour cherry pearls. Because the duck cake wanted something bright and sweet-tart to counteract its dark, rich flavor. This means I had to learn to make pearls, which I first encountered at a food festival recently here at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

And that made things really complicated because I was halfway through making the duck hash when I remembered that I should have made the pearls first!

After that, things got easier, as it involved only frying the eggs, adding a few snipped chives from the garden, a drizzle of Les Pastras truffle oil and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel de Camargue au Piment d'Esplette. The latter two items were much-appreciated gifts from the Provence WineZine's own Susan and Towny from their recent travels.

As if this weren't enough, all the while I am photographing this creation amidst the mess (crime scene). I admit to forgetting to shoot the duck confit leg... but you get the idea. As an aside, wasn't I lucky just to have received that gorgeous linen chicken towel from my friends Jennifer and Patrick?

In the end, it was one of the best things I have ever created, bar none. If I were to make it again, it would seem much less complicated because I would know what I am doing to start… and I would have a recipe.

If you are feeling brave, give this a try. I cooked the cake and egg using rings, but you don't have to - free-form patties and fried eggs would be perfect. If you aren't up to making the pearls, use a few fresh pitted and chopped cherries. Any truffle or fine olive oil would work for the drizzle, and plain old salt and freshly ground pepper would work just fine.

So, I guess it doesn't have to be all that complicated after all.

~ David

David's Duck Confit Hash and Eggs

The Sour Cherry Pearls
1 cup sour cherry juice, reduced from 1 1/2 cups
2 grams agar powder
about 2 cups salad oil

The Duck Hash Cakes
1 confit duck leg, about 6-7 ounces
1 tablespoon duck fat (from the confit)
3 tablespoons diced celery
3 tablespoons diced carrot
3 tablespoons diced shallot
3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons heavy cream

The Silkie Eggs
2 silkie eggs
2 teaspoons butter
freshly shipped chives
black truffle oil
sel de mar de Camargue au piment d'Esplette

To make the pearls, start by putting the oil in a tall glass leaving about an inch at the top, and then put the glass in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. During this time you can get started on the duck cakes by dicing the celery, carrots, and shallot, as well as removing the skin from the duck confit and chopping it coarsely. Set these ingredients aside.

When the 30 minutes of freezing time is almost up, place the concentrated cherry juice in a sauce pan and whisk in the 2 grams of agar powder. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Once it boils, remove it from the heat and let it cool to 130°F. I use an instant read thermometer. Note: the mixture will be very thin. Using a funnel, transfer the liquid to a squeeze bottle. Remove the oil from the freezer. Gently squeeze out drops into the oil. As they sink to the bottom, they will solidify and turn into “pearls.” When you have made all your pearls, pour the oil through a sieve to recover the pearls, and rinse the pearls thoroughly with cold water. Note: I saved the oil in the refrigerator for future pearls.

Make the hash. Heat a tablespoon of the duck fat from the confit in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the diced celery, carrot, and shallot and cook until the vegetables begin to color. Then add the chopped duck and sauté for a minute or two. Add the breadcrumbs and cream and cook a few moments pulling it all together. Transfer the mixture to a plate and divide evenly in two. Place the frying pan back on the heat.

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Butter two 2.75- or 3-inch rings. Place the rings in the frying pan and fill each with the hash mixture, pressing it down to form a cake. Cook for 4-5 minutes until golden brown then, using a spatula, flip the cake and the ring, pressing the cakes back down inside the ring to make contact with the pan. When then are golden on the bottom, transfer the cakes with their rings to serving plates, carefully remove rings, and place plates in the oven to keep them warm.

Wipe out the frying pan (no need to clean it) and place it back on the heat. Add the butter and swirl around. Place two 2.5-inch rings in the pan and break the eggs into the rings. Let them cook until the whites are firm, keeping an eye on them to break any bubbles that form. Remove the cakes from the oven, then carefully remove the rings and transfer the eggs to the top of the cakes. Surround the cakes with pears, drizzle the truffle oil onto the egg and around the cake, then sprinkle with chives and the salt. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

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